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25 companies split $23.5M in South Dakota COVID-19 funding

March 8, 2021 GMT

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — More than $23.5 million in COVID-19 relief funds was split up among 25 applicants for the first two rounds of the South Dakota small business grant program, leaving some proprietors to question the process.

The grant program is a primary payout of Republican Gov. Kristi Noem’s plan to spend $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus money to help offset losses due to the pandemic. Businesses that applied for the grants had to show there was at least a 25% reduction in business, said Colin Keeler, director of financial systems for the South Dakota Bureau of Finance and Management.

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Those companies in the top 25 through the first and second rounds of distribution consisted mostly of hospitality, agriculture and commercial real estate and construction businesses, the Argus Leader reported.

Fifteen businesses received $1 million in funding, after Noem raised the maximum benefit from $100,000 to $500,000 per round. Some businesses received more because they have several locations, such as Lester Hospitality, which received over $2 million between its three businesses.

Some small businesses argue they were shortchanged. Eastway Bowl in Sioux Falls didn’t qualify for the first round of grants, and owner Josh Thomas said he still doesn’t know why. Despite owning the bowling alley and the separate bar and lounge inside the facility, Thomas received $26,475, shaping up to a fraction of his losses this year.

“From what we were told, we thought we’d be getting around $100,000, but it only came up for a little bit for Eastway at the end and nothing for our bar,” Thomas said. “That was surprising for us, because I know a lot of other businesses that showed less losses but received more grant money.”

Grant awards ranged from $1 million to $538, according to recent data. The average amount paid out for businesses not in the top 25 was $76,449; the median was $29,818.

The review of all applications was completed in January, but there was still about $3.2 million in grant money to be distributed as of March 1. That remaining money will be given out among 52 businesses.